By Robert Lucke
Talk to Chinook City Council member Freda Bryson and one thing is apparent five minutes into the conversation. Not only is she highly motivated about Montana's young and poor, but that is not enough to say. It is more like she is driven.
Bryson has been on the Chinook City Council for nine and a half years and a part of her City Council role is to be Chinook's representative on the Resource Conservation District. It is there that she has found programs that can really help young and poor people.
The council serves 10 counties in Northern Montana and has been very successful in providing affordable housing for people without down payments and sometimes adequate means to take care of a house.
"This program puts low-income families into their own homes. It helps them to buy those houses," Bryson said. "Not only that but we do training to learn the responsibility that goes with buying a home. We work with payments, set up a budget, give seminars about upkeep and things like that. And there are people who are in danger of losing their homes. They can turn to this program and with some training save their homes rather than go into bankruptcy."
Called the Neighborhood Housing Services, in some instances they pay down payments and actually go in and work on the houses so that when the owner moves in there is not a lot of work to do.
"And in most cases, they work on a budget to make sure payments can be made," Bryson said. "In 2000 we had five homes in Chinook, three in Harlem and 37 in Havre."
Being on the City Council peaked Bryson's interest in this project.
"In 1991 the RC&D started up. Our city council asked if I would be a representative for Chinook. I have been every since. There have been many programs. Some came through and others did not," Bryson said.
One program that Bryson is doing everything she can to make work is that of encouraging young people, particularly girls, to become trained in construction trades.
"A lot of young people are not going to be able to go to college. They need jobs. I felt that young women needed to know they could make a good living as a plumber or an electrician or a carpenter. They needed that option," she said. "In schools they needed to be able to work on such projects."
At present a plan is just being developed.
"We are trying to work with other schools to get a program to teach slide rules or how to read a tape measure or how to know how much cement you need for a project. Things like that. And in time they can go out and work in construction. In Great Falls young people are putting together houses and I would like to see that happen along the Hi-Line as well."
The RC&D is working with MSU-Northern to put together a curriculum for rural schools to get the program going in this part of Montana, Bryson said.
"I hope it works. I think it is important. It gives kids another direction," Bryson said.
Bryson has a personal stake in the matter. She has seven children, 16 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
A native of Red Deer, Alberta, Freda and her husband have lived in Chinook since 1961. It is important that her children and grandchildren have the same or better opportunities than she did.
"Montana is such a great state. I want our young people to be able to stay here and work if they want to," she said.